Rather than present interpretive notes for your reflection on this passage prescribed for the 10th anniversary of September 11, let’s do something different this week. We can begin by examining this painting by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya (1746-1828).
What appears here are two men, ensnared up to their waists in quicksand, in a bleak landscape, perhaps a desert or wilderness of some kind. In this harsh and dangerous environment, they are pounding each other with cudgels while still trapped in the quagmire. A pointless fight, instead of escape or mutual aid.
I’m not sure that Jesus’ parable needs much explanation or interpretation. Our own need for forgiveness is acute, for our sins are many and our lives too short for bitterness and hatred. Will we, like the unforgiving servant or these two men depicted by Goya, choose to carry meanness and selfishness to our grave needlessly? Or will we choose reconciliation and forgiveness? Jesus teaches us how great our forgiveness in God truly is, encourages us to practice forgiveness extravagantly with others, and warns of us the peril that awaits if we attempt to opt out of forgiving.
What act of forgiveness or reconciliation do I need to pursue this week? Who do I consider my enemy, and what will I do about it?
Thou who art over us,
Thou who art one of us,
Thou who art:
Give me a pure heart, that I may see thee;
a humble heart, that I may hear thee;
a heart of love, that I may serve thee;
a heart of faith, that I may abide in thee. Amen.
All the lectionary texts for this Sunday’s worship can be found at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Revised Common Lectionary site.
Duel with Cudgels by Francisco de Goya (c. 1820-23). Image is in the public domain.
Prayer by Dag Hammerskjold (20th cent.).